Similarities and Differences between Koalas and Wombats, and Their Relationship to Badgers

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Koalas, wombats, and badgers were often mistaken for each other, especially by the early settlers on the continent of Australia. This article takes an in-depth look at the similarities and differences between Australian natives the koala and the wombat, and then compares them with their global lookalike the badger.

Koala
Koala | Source
Wombat
Wombat | Source

Physical Characteristics of Koalas and Wombats

Similarities

Koalas and wombats are marsupial mammals with big heads; small eyes; sharp teeth; large, butterball, muscular bodies; powerful limbs with five digits, and thick, rough pads on palms and soles, and tails so short, they are hidden by fur. The females have pouches on their stomachs with two teats for nursing. The pouches also carry and protect their young as they grow into adulthood. Both animals have poor eyesight, great hearing, and walk with a waddle.

Differences

Koalas

Koalas have been labeled the world’s second largest marsupial after the kangaroo. They are not bears, but people often add the term to their name. Physical features that are different from the wombats include their large, dark, oval noses; large, furry ears; long, powerful limbs (for climbing) on which the five digits are oriented like human hands but with two opposite three; sharp, long claws on the front legs, and second and third digits on the hind legs, which are fused for grooming. Adult males have a scent gland in the middle of their chest, which secretes the sticky, brown substance they use to mark their territory.

All koalas have extremely thick fur, especially on their rear ends. This together with cartilaginous tissues serves as comfortable padding for sitting in trees. The dense fur also helps to keep the animals dry in rain, and offers protection in extreme temperatures. It is white on the tips of their ears, chin, belly, forelimbs, and parts of their rear ends. Overall fur color is ash-gray to brown, depending on region. The koalas of Northern Australia have a shorter and lighter-colored coat than those in the Southern region where winters are not as cold. Size of the animals also depends on region. A koala can weigh as much as 30 pounds and be as long as 34 inches. Males are a bit heavier than females. Besides waddling, koalas run and swim.

The word koala means no drink in Aboriginal language. It was given to the animals because they do not drink water unless they are sick or cannot get enough moisture from their diet of eucalyptus leaves. An article titled “History of Koalas” from the Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) states that early settlers spelled the animal’s name in the following ways: koala koolah, colo, colah, cullewine, keolewong, koala, kaola, karbar, among others.

Wombats

Wombats have wider heads and noses than koalas. They also have strong jaws, and pig-sized ears. Most people describe their faces as rodent-like. I think they look more pig- like. They have cartilaginous bodies and short legs; all digits except the first have powerful, broad claws for digging, and their hind limbs are a bit longer than their forelimbs. The females’ pouches are oriented backwards to protect offspring from harm and dirt when they dig.

Fur color is gray, light brown, brown or black, depending on species. Adult wombats weigh between 44 and 88 pounds and have an average length of 39 inches. These guys have a slow waddle, but can run up to 25 miles per hour for short distances. Their droppings are distinctly square-shaped.

The word wombat is believed to have come from the Eora Aboriginal community that once occupied regions around Sydney. In English, it means No drink.

Diet of Koalas and Wombats

Similarities

Both marsupials are herbivorous with slow digestive systems and metabolisms, which helps to conserve energy. They also go without hydration for a long time.

Differences

Koalas

The koalas’ diet is rather restrictive. They dine solely on the leaves of various gum or eucalyptus plants. The leaves are quite toxic, fibrous, and slightly nutritious. To combat these issues, koalas developed a digestive system capable of detoxifying the leaves, and sleep 18 to 20 hours a day to squeeze out as much nutrition as they can. Since the vegetation provides about 90 percent moisture, they drink water only in times of sickness or drought.

Wombats

Wombats’ diet includes grasses, bushes, mosses, trees, barks, roots, mushrooms, and other fungi. However, they tend to favor the young grass shoots and mosses. This kind of diet can be nutritionally high in fiber, so digestion takes up to two weeks. The Hairy-nosed wombat will drink plenty of water when it rains, since they typically live in arid environments.

Koala sitting in home tree.
Koala sitting in home tree. | Source
Wombat burrow
Wombat burrow | Source

Habitats and Ranges of Koalas and Wombats

Similarities

The only similarity here is that both mammals are native to Australia.

Differences

Koalas

Koalas are found in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Southern Australia. Habitats extend from the woodlands to the coast or wherever there is an abundance of eucalyptus trees. Though territorial, koalas live in human-like communities. Everyone has their own acreage of land called a “home range” consisting of food trees, home trees (for sleeping and lounging), and socializing trees. Neighbors’ socializing trees usually overlap and serve as boundary markers.

The extent of a koala’s home range depends on the animal’s age, gender, and social position in the community, as well as on the quantity and type of food trees in the area. There are over 600 varieties of gum trees growing in different regions of the continent, according to the article “Information on Koalas” from http://www.thekoala.com. All species of koalas have their favorites, which usually number around ten.

Wombats

In addition to Australia, wombats are native to Tasmania. They build wide expanses of complex tunnels and chambers in the dry mountains and uncultivated regions. One animal can occupy a territory of more than 55 acres, depending on the availability of food and space. Wombats have been known to create havoc for farmers with their burrowing.

Reproductive and Life Cycles of Koalas and Wombats

Similarities

Both koalas and wombats give birth to one very small, hairless, thin-skinned, blind and deaf offspring at a time. It is called a joey. The newborn depends on its keen sense of smell and touch to find its way from the birth canal to the pouch where it remains as it matures.

Differences

Koalas

Female and male koalas mature sexually at age three or four. They mate from September to March and have a 34- to 36-day gestation period. Older females often give birth every two or three years. This interval is somewhat dependent on the food supply.

As the joey matures, it graduates to riding on its mother’s back or abdomen. It nurses for a year, but at 22 to 30 weeks, it feeds on pap: a mushy, fecal-like mixture of microorganisms, nutrients, and protein. This seemingly disgusting concoction helps the young koala adapt to its eucalyptus diet. It weans about a year later.

A female koala’s life span both in the wild and in captivity is about 12 to 18 years. Males live 10 years or less due to fierce fighting with other animals.

Wombats

By 18 months, wombats are mature enough to breed. Mating occurs in the summer months (December, January, and February). The gestation period is 22 to 28 days. The joey nurses for six to seven months and weans at about month fifteen. Some wombats, especially the females, leave home at age two.

A wombat’s life span in the wild is about five years and up to 26 years in captivity.

Behaviors of Koalas and Wombats

Similarities

Koalas and wombats are both mostly nocturnal, solitary mammals. They also use a number of different calls or sounds to communicate mainly in times of distress, disputes, during mating season, and bonding between mother and offspring.

Differences

Koalas

Koalas mark home trees with their scent, but they do socialize and communicate over long distances. When they descend from the trees to the ground, they do so rear end first. The dense fur and tough, cartilaginous tissue protects them from potential predators.

Koalas have been known to snore while sleeping, and shiver when cold or stressed.

Wombats

The Common Wombat is the most vocal species, but prefers a solitary lifestyle. Other species enjoy living in colonies. Though they can be tamed and touched while living in captive habitats such as zoos, you don not want to get near an unhappy or angry wombat. It is a known fact that a wombat can knock down an adult human and do serious damage with their powerful jaws and sharp teeth, especially in the wild. They are also ferocious defenders of their homes. Intruders’ heads are smashed to pieces as the wombat uses its powerful hind legs to pummel the heads against the top of its den. To ward off enemies, it leaves its tough, cartilaginous, difficult-to-bite rear end at the mouth of its den.

Most wombat activity occurs at sunrise and sunset.

Predators of Koalas and Wombats

Similarities

Natural enemies of koalas and wombats are humans (taking habitats for their own residential and commercial use), domestic dogs, dingoes, feral cats, foxes, eagles, owls, falcons, and other birds. Both animals are protected by law.

Differences

Koalas

Until the 1930s, koalas were hunted by Europeans for fur. Much of their habitat has also been lost to bushfires. Today there are laws against hunting, but none against the destruction of food and home trees. In 2008, the AKF reported that there were less than 100,000 koalas on the continent. Other predators besides those in common with wombats include pythons.

Wombats

Wombats are also victims of vehicular accidents, Tasmanian Devils, and parasitic mites.

Classifications of Koalas and Wombats

Similarities

Koalas and wombats both belong to the subclass Marsupialia, order Diprotodontia, and sub-order Vombatiformes. Classification differs from this point.

Differences

Koalas

Koalas belong to the family Phascolarctidae, species Phascolarctos cinereus, and three subspecies: P.C. victor (from region of Victoria, Australia), P.C. cinereus (from New South Wales), and P.C. adustus (from Queensland area). There were many other species of wombats some 40,000 years ago. According to the article “Koala Information” from the website http://www.koalas.org, in 1816, French zoologist and anatomist Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville named the wombat Phascolarctos because of its pouch and bear-like appearance. Georg August German paleontologist, zoologist, and professor, later added cinereus for the color of the animal’s fur.

Wombat

Wombats are members of the family Vombatidae, and three species: Vombatus ursinus/ Common Wombat (also called Bare-nosed Wombat), Lasiorhinus krefftii/ Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, and Lasiorhinus latrifrons/ Southern Hairy-nosed Wombat. The latter species are so-called because of the fur on their swine-like noses.

American Badger
American Badger | Source

The Relationship of Koalas and Wombats to Badgers

Physical Characteristics

Similarities

Badgers are also mammals with powerful jaws; small ears; roundish, sturdy bodies; thick skins; five toes on each foot with long, sharp claws on four of the front toes.

Differences

Badgers’ heads are longer; legs are shorter; they have a gland near their anus, which secretes a malodorous liquid, and two others on their stomachs. Their tail lengths vary according to species and could be as long as 20 inches.

Their thick fur has a white stripe running from their noses down to their shoulders. Faces and legs are dark, bellies are light-colored, and the rest of their bodies are brown or gray. Depending on species, adult badgers can weigh 20 to 40 pounds and be as long as 35 inches from nose to tail. Male badgers are much larger than females. Badgers have great eyesight, poor hearing, and can run up to 19 miles per hour in spurts.

The word badger, some say, comes from the French word becheur, meaning digger. Others believe it derived from the white, badge-like mark on their heads. Badgers are also mistaken for groundhogs, opossums, and raccoons.

Diet

Similarities

Koalas, wombats, and badgers have no similarities in diet.

Differences

Badgers are omnivorous. They use their keen sense of smell to catch prey by digging or tunneling. They love earthworms and eat plenty of them along with insects, lizards, skunks, moles, prairie dogs, birds, roots, and fruits, especially berries, fresh or rotted. The rotted ones make them intoxicated. The American Badger specie is the most carnivorous of the lot and enjoys dining on squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rabbits, and carrion. The Honey Badger specie eats honey, poisonous snakes, and porcupines.

Habitats

Similarities

Badgers live in wide, underground complexes of chambers and tunnels with many entrances/ exits much like the wombats. The Asian Ferret Badger sometimes sleeps in trees like the koalas. Certain species also live in social groups like the koalas, and the Asian Ferret Badger sometimes sleeps in trees.

Differences

Badgers are global animals. Varying species are native to North America, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. In the United States for example, American Badgers are found mainly in the Western and North Central regions; Honey Badgers are native to Sub-Saharan Africa; Hog Badgers live in Asia, and Eurasian Badgers are found in Europe and Asia. According to the article “Amazing Facts about Badgers” from the website http://www.onekind.org, badgers lived in Britain (specifically England and Wales) some 400,000 years ago.

Habitats vary from woodlands to open fields, swamplands, and riverbanks. Badgers underground complexes are called setts. Some of these, especially in Europe, can be a century or more old. There are rooms for sleeping and giving birth. They will not eat or defecate in these homes. Instead, they build special “toilets” some ways away.

Eurasian Badgers are mostly social and live in groups or clans of six to fifteen. Some badgers have been known to share their setts with other animal species. In England, they have been known to roommate with foxes, and in the United States with coyotes.

Reproductive and Life Cycles

Similarities

Koalas, wombats, and badgers have no similarities in reproductive cycle except their babies are also born blind. Badgers’ captivity life span, however, is the same as wombats: up to 26 years.

Differences

Badger females, called sows, can begin breeding when they are less than two years old, and have eight teats. The males or boars can breed by age two. Most species mate in June and October, delay fertilization until December, and give birth in February or March. The American Badger female can breed when she is four months old. Breeding takes place in August or September; fertilization is delayed until December or February, and babies are born anywhere from April to June. Females in all species prepare their birthing chamber by lining it with grass, other foliage, and materials.

A litter can have one to seven offspring. These silver-colored babies are called cubs. Their eyes open at four to six weeks of age; they nurse for up to three or four months, and go out on their own at five or six months.

A badger’s life span in the wild is between 10 to 14 years.

Behaviors

Similarities

Like the wombat, badgers are generally solitary. Like the koala, they are territorial. And like both marsupials, they can be social but that depends on the species.

Differences

The American Badger is the least social of the lot. Those who live in clans, spray each other from their anal scent gland for identification purposes. Most badgers are aggressive and will defend themselves and their young to the death.

During winter, they tend to sleep for long periods of time. Badgers, especially the European species are extremely clean. They will remove old grass and other material from their sleeping chambers.

Predators

Similarities

Humans also top the list of badger predators. Badger meat was considered a delicacy by Native Americans. Europe currently has a hunting ban. In the United Kingdom, they are protected by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and schedule 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Badgers are still consumed in Russia. Other predators in common with koalas and wombats include domestic dogs and eagles.

Differences

Badgers are also victims of coyotes.

Classification of the Koala, Wombat, and Badger

CLASSIFICATION
KOALA
WOMBAT
BADGER
Phylum
Chordata
Chordata
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Mammalia
Mammalia
Infraclass
Marsupialia
Marsupialia
No classification here
Order
Diprotodontia
Diprotodontia
Carnivora
Suborder
Vombatiformes
Vombatiformes
Caniformia
Superfamily
No classification here
No classification here
Musteloidae
Family
Phascolarctidae
Vombatidae
Mustelidae
Subfamily
No classification here
No classification here
Melinae, Mellivorinae, Taxideinae
Genera/ Genus
Phascolarctos
Vombatus, Lasiorhinus
Melogale, Mellivora, Meles, Taxidae
Species
Phascolarctus cinereus
Vombatus ursinus (Common wombat), Lasiorhinus krefftii (Northern Hairy-nosed wombat), Lasiorhinus latifrons (Southern Hairy-nosed wombat)
Mellivora capensis (Honey Badger or Ratel), Meles meles (Eurasian Badger), Melogale moschata (Ferret Badger), Arctonyx collaris (Hog Badger), Mydaus javanensis (Indonesian Stink Badger), Sullotavus marchei (Palawan Stink Badger), Taxidea taxus (American Badger)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Classifications

Similarities

Besides belonging to the Phylum Chordata and Class Mammalia, badgers are not related to koalas or wombats.

Differences

Badgers belong to the family Mustelidae and subfamilies: Melinae (called “True” badgers), Mellivorinae, and Taxideinae. There are seven species: Taxidea taxis/ American Badger, Meles meles/ Eurasian Badger, Mellivora capersis/ Honey Badger or Ratel (sometimes labeled not “True” badgers), Melogale moschata/ Ferret Badger, Mydaus javanensis/ Indonesian Stink Badger, Sullotaxus marchei/ Palawan Stink Badger, and Arctonyx collaris/ Hog Badger. Some scientists record eight to eleven species. Others just group them as black, gray, and white, according to the color of their coats.

As you can see, these three mammals may be mistaken for each other, but they are quite different.

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